Kenyan Drake preparing to take on full load for Cardinals in 2020

May 27, 2020, 6:55 AM

Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake celebrates after he scored a touchdown against the Seat...

Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake celebrates after he scored a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

(AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Running back Kenyan Drake signed a transition tag tender with the Arizona Cardinals that makes him the sixth-highest paid running back in the NFL by annual average value. It’s a one-year deal worth $8.5 million.

The Cardinals and Drake have until mid-July to work out a long-term deal, but as is, Drake is focused on making the most of his one guaranteed year with Arizona.

“I feel like anybody that plays this game is obviously looking for stability and a longterm contract. We got the deal done in the sense of where we are currently. Everything else will handle itself in the appropriate time,” Drake told reporters on a Zoom call Tuesday.

“All I can do is focus on the things I can control right now.”

Drake, who in 2019 scored eight touchdowns with 653 rushing yards over eight games with Arizona, is preparing to play a full season as the No. 1 running back for the first time in his five-year NFL career.

Drake appeared in 16 games during each of his first three seasons in the league. Last season, bye week timing and the Miami Dolphins trading him to the Cardinals midway through the season limited him to 14 games. All that is evidence that his injury history is relatively clean.

“I’m looking forward to, one, putting myself in the best situation; two, be available to be able to do that,” Drake said. “I had I guess a couple injuries in college that prohibited from me being available on the field. Since I’ve been in the league, I’ve been fairly healthy.

“I’m really just trying to put my body in a situation where I can take a load or get X amount of carries or touches in general.”

How likely is it the Cardinals will split carries to any great degree? It’s hard to say at the moment.

Chase Edmonds returns coming off a successful season himself, having averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scoring three touchdowns during his lone game as the primary back before he got banged up. Seventh-round pick Eno Benjamin is also a potential candidate to earn playing time behind Drake.

Still, Drake is the favorite to take the bulk of the carries. Signing the one-year tender with Arizona was about circumstance for the then-free agent.

The Cardinals made him a priority when they dealt former No. 1 back David Johnson for DeAndre Hopkins just as the free agency period began. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s decision to ride Drake’s “hot hand” over Johnson and Edmonds in the back-half of 2019 had already made it clear how they favored him.

Drake thrived, but it’s a two-way street. His success in Kingsbury’s offense allowed him to appreciate the now-second-year NFL coach. His faith in quarterback Kyler Murray and the expectation that the box can’t be loaded to stop the run against a passing offense that now features Hopkins excited Drake.

“I feel like Kliff is one of the more, I guess, mad-genius offensive schematic guys in this league because of how he can put players in different positions to be successful,” Drake said.

Kingsbury’s ability to watch high school, college or NFL film and adapt ideas from other teams onto the Cardinals — fitting their roster — impressed Drake. From a wider scope, what Arizona did this offseason to check off priorities makes him confident the team can contend in the likely competitive NFC West.

Locked into a deal for at least a year, he believes he can reach his individual goals, too.

“I’m really excited just from the fact that it’s another year to strap it up and go out and prove what you’re worth and really just play the game that I’ve loved since I was 6 years old. I tell people all the time, I’d play this game for free if the NFL didn’t pay me so handsomely. I appreciate the opportunity to continue to play the game I love,” Drake said.

“I’m real hopeful for the future in this organization. I appreciate them believing in me to also be a part of this and to continue to go out there and see what we can continue to put together.”

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